Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Empress of Uruguay

Vandal strikes Tableland jewel

Petrina Berry & Tony Stickley
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
© The Cairns Post

 The Empress of Uruguay is looking slightly less regal after a tourist broke off a piece of the world's largest amethyst cluster at an Atherton museum.

The amethyst geode – a hollow rock filled with amethyst crystals – stands an imposing 3m tall, weighs 2.7 tonnes and is the main attraction at the Crystal Caves museum at Atherton, southwest of Cairns. But a visitor broke off a tennis ball-sized chunk of the deep purple crystals in a brazen act of vandalism and theft.

"It’s like slashing the Mona Lisa but worse, because the Empress is one of nature’s grand masterpieces," owner Rene Boissevain said. "It’s unbelievable.

"For three-and-a-half years people have touched it and had their photo taken with it but this is the first time someone has taken a chunk out of it."

It’s believed the culprit used a tool to remove the crystals on Monday morning. Staff discovered the theft in the afternoon.

"I doubt it was a local (who stole it). The whole community of the Tableland are proud we have the largest amethyst in the world."

Mr Boissevain, originally from Holland, bought the Empress for $US70,000 from a friend in Uruguay more than three years ago. He had been offered $US1 million for it since.

But to him, it is priceless. "I said it is not for sale," he said.

CCTV footage has been handed to local police, but Mr Boissevain hopes the person or people responsible will own up and return the crystals.

He said security would be upgraded to guard against any similar acts. "We gave people the freedom to touch and admire and someone out of 10,000 is spoiling it now," he said.

Mr Boissevain said it appeared from a fracture line that the missing piece may have been loose.
It was possible someone had dislodged it by accident and was too embarrassed to own up. Staff were yesterday scouring the shop to see if it had been discarded somewhere in the store.

Other possibilities were that it had been done deliberately or out of bravado, showing off to friends that they had a piece of the Empress of Uruguay.

They just wanted the missing piece back, no questions asked, Mr Boissevain said.

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